Thursday, November 9, 2000
Nevadas topUniversity of Nevada quarterback David Neill and linebacker Josh Smith are about as marquee as it gets for the Wolf Pack this season.
fighting off injuries
Quarterback David NeillWarriors notebook
missed a start last week and
linebacker Josh Smith has
missed three games
By Paul Arnett
The playing status for the talented twosome is still up in the air, leaving Hawaii coordinators June Jones and Kevin Lempa mulling several possibilities as the two teams prepare for this Saturday's final Western Athletic Conference game at Aloha Stadium in 2000.
Lempa asked after yesterday morning's practice what was the latest on Neill's health. Rated among the best new quarterbacks in the league, Neill went down in the second half of the game at Southern Methodist nearly two weeks ago with a shoulder and wrist injury, and hasn't been seen in six quarters since.
After Tuesday's practice, Neill pronounced himself fit enough for duty, giving Lempa time to prepare in case the young gun does suit up. The coaching staff studied last week's Nevada game against conference leader Texas-El Paso.
In that meeting, backup Brett Staninger was under center and did a good enough job.
"I know everybody thinks of them as a passing team because they're second in the league in that category,'' Lempa said. "But it's more of a case of them falling behind and having to throw more to catch back up. I really think they want to be a more balanced football team.
"They may study the film of some recent games with us and try to line up and run right at us. Certainly, Fresno State did a good job with that. But I would compare Nevada more to San Jose State. They like to run to set up the pass, and they just haven't been able to do it consistently yet.''
Neill is still among the conference leaders, despite missing the better part of two games. He has hit 130 of 263 passes for 1,707 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has thrown nine interceptions. Staninger has struggled with the interceptions as well. The 6-foot-3 sophomore has six in 90 pass attempts and only three touchdowns.
"But we fully expect to see Neill in there,'' Lempa said. "It doesn't look like they change that much with one guy in there instead of the other."
They have a combination of one back and three-wide where they like to throw. And they have a combination of two backs and two tight ends where they like to run.
"They do a nice job of throwing the football," Lempa said. "Their favorite targets are Nate Burleson and Mike Crawford. But it's Burleson who is the deep threat. We have to know where he is on the football field at all times.''
Crawford leads the team in receptions with 42 for 508 yards and no touchdowns. But it's Burleson who wears the go-to jersey. He has 40 catches for 682 yards and seven touchdowns. No one else offensively is even close in terms of big-play production.
The same can be said of Smith on the defensive side of the football. He has missed three games with a bad ankle sprain, but is still among the team's top tacklers with 61.
Recently, cornerback Ronnie Hardiman passed him with 64. The fact a defensive back is among the top tacklers tells you something about Nevada's pass defense.
The Wolf Pack yield an average of 208.3 yards through the air. By comparison, the Warriors give up 176.3, and they are ranked No. 103 nationally.
Figure head coach June Jones to take advantage of this early and often.
"They primarily go with a three deep zone,'' Jones said. "We haven't seen this defense quite as much as some others this year. They don't really blitz that much out of their basic sets.
"They kind of remind me of us in that they do some things well some of the time, but just aren't consistent enough to handle it for four quarters.''
Nevada (1-8 overall, 0-5 WAC) is near the bottom of the league in total defense, yielding 438.2 yards a game. But all of the tough opponents are behind the Wolf Pack. Nevada has not only played top league squads Texas-El Paso, San Jose State, Texas Christian and Fresno State, but nationally ranked nonconference foes Oregon and Colorado State as well.
"That kind of skews the numbers right there,'' Jones said.
Still, Hawaii (1-7, 1-6) will try to exploit Nevada on the ground and through the air. The Warriors were much more balanced last week.
Senior back James Fenderson managed his second 100-yard game rushing of the season last week at Fresno State. Look for Jones to use him to help better set up the passing game.
"We're going to do what we always do and that's pass the football,'' Jones said. "We ran the ball well against Fresno State last year and we had some success again last week. Hopefully, we can move the ball even better against Nevada and maybe get out of here with a win.''
What: Nevada vs. Hawaii.
When: 6:05 p.m., Saturday
Where: Aloha Stadium.
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In a move designed to get the three best linebackers on the field, University of Hawaii head coach June Jones has moved Pisa Tinoisamoa into the middle, and Rinda Brooks and Anthony Smith to the outside.
The shift is two-fold. One, it allows Tinoisamoa a month to grow into a position he's likely to own the next several seasons. And two, it doesn't put Brooks and his leadership on the bench, but rather, places him in a position he will probably be more comfortable in the rest of the way.
"We're just trying to put the best players on the field," Jones said yesterday. "Rinda and Anthony are interchangeable. They can play both outside positions if we need them to.
"We want Pisa to develop into our middle linebacker because we believe he's going to be a difference-maker. But we're also looking to win some games. We're not thinking about next year yet."
UH defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa backed that sentiment.
"It's true, Pisa is our middle linebacker of the future," Lempa said. "Starting in the middle the last four games should help him develop into a better football player. But we're just trying to win some games this year. I'm not even thinking about next year. We need to show some immediate improvement, hopefully starting this weekend against Nevada."
Liana odd man outThe odd man out in this lineup is outside linebacker Bronson Liana. He has started the last three games, but hasn't developed the instincts of playing the position. At this point, the transplanted quarterback and defensive back needs more time.
"Bronson was doing his best for us," Lempa said. "And we feel like he'll be fine once he gets more experience. To play a position well, you need at least two years to grow into it. Bronson will still see some time, but he won't start on Saturday."
For Brooks, this is a move he has been waiting for of late. Despite being the second-leading tackler with 78, including one sack, the senior from Houston has always been more comfortable on the outside.
"You know me," Brooks said. "I like to run to the football. But you can't do that as much from the middle. You have to take on the blocker and then choose the right gap to shoot. It's a lot tougher in there."
Injury updateDefensive lineman Mike Iosua took a big step back at yesterday's practice, and will likely not play in this Saturday's final Western Athletic Conference game of the season at Aloha Stadium.
Jones didn't rule out the talented tackle, who missed the last game with a bad ankle, but said it was iffy at best.
"I'm hopeful he and Robert Kemfort (bruised ribs) can give it a go," Jones said. "We feel like Vincent Manuwai will make it back this week. We need him in there protecting our quarterback."
Manuwai aggravated a hamstring pull against San Jose State and missed last week's game at Fresno State. So did Kemfort, but it's possible he'll make it back.
Hawaii has several other players battling the normal aches and pains of playing in eight games. They include defensive linemen Miles Garner (ankle), Doug Sims (knee) and Lui Fuga (shoulder). Safeties Nate Jackson and Jacob Espiau are also playing through a variety of bumps and bruises, but will be ready to go this weekend.
"We're still pretty banged up," Jones said. "But we just have to suck it up and play. That's how it goes in this game."
Chang under centerJones announced at yesterday's practice that Tim Chang will be his starting quarterback this weekend. Chang missed the Fresno State game due to a concussion he suffered against San Jose State nearly two weeks ago.
"He's feeling a lot better and will be our guy," Jones said. "It's already been decided. There's no controversy here."
Chang told reporters after yesterday's workout that he feels fit for duty and is ready to play. He was cleared by team physician Andrew Nichols at the beginning of the week.
The freshman quarterback was woozy most of last week after the helmet-to-helmet collision with San Jose State middle linebacker Josh Parry. Chang felt as if he were letting down the team by not being able to play, but said the headaches and the fatigue were too severe.
"He's throwing the football well and has made a complete recovery," Jones said. "It just took a little longer than we expected."
Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin
2000 UH Football Special